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Where is Paula Badosa at?

A year on from her Indian Wells title, Tom Jones take a look at the Spaniard’s disappointing


I really like Paula Badosa. Well, I mostly like Paula Badosa. I can like Paula Badosa…but then other

times I ask myself, do I really like Paula Badosa? It’s complicated.

A year ago, I would have said I absolutely like Paula Badosa. I loved her! She had just won Indian

Wells, launching her into the top 10 after an epic win over Viktoria Azarenka in the final in what was

the match of the year on the WTA. She did so with an attractive brand of tennis with awesome

power. She had a very high rally tolerance, could push, could counter-punch or could dictate with

those huge groundstrokes. There was no reason to think she was not going to have a good 2022,

pushing on in the rankings and cementing herself at the top of the game. There was no reason to

think she couldn’t be one of the new stars of the WTA; Spanish, good on both clay and hard courts,

conventionally attractive (with a very hot boyfriend too, mind) and with a good style. It was all

upward trajectories.

Now, I’m not sure if I like Paula Badosa. With her 2021 Indian Wells points dropping, she sits back

where she was a year ago- on the edge of the top 10. She was the top seed at the WTA1000 in

Guadalajara but her retirement to Viktoria Azarenka means she has not qualified for the WTA Finals.

She will be out of the top 10 and might soon find herself outside of the top 20. Since lifting that

(rather heavy) Indian Wells trophy, Badosa has had some success but now finds herself back right

where she started. How did we get back here? Where did it all go wrong? If I loved Badosa so much

a year ago, how come I feel so conflicted? What is Paula Badosa in 2022?

This year actually started reasonably well for Badosa. She pretty much picked up where she left off

in 2021 winning a WTA500 in Sydney. She looked brilliant, playing the same level and style of tennis

that brought her so much success at the back end of the previous year beating Barbora Krejcikova in

the final. She reached the 4th Round of the Australian Open for the first time, but a combination of

injury niggles, fatigue and Madison Keys sent her out.

She made the semi-finals of Indian Wells in her first big title defence losing to Maria Sakkari in 3 sets.

As far as title defences go, I think this was a very good showing of herself. Sakkari was in a similar

vein of form in March herself entering the top 10 at the tail-end of 2021. I wonder if having her title

defence coming much earlier in the year helped Badosa in the end. She was still in good form going

into a tournament she clearly enjoys the conditions of, even if defending a title far sooner than

normal must be odd. She backed that up with a run to the quarterfinal of Miami but retired early in

that match against Pegula.

She lost in the quarterfinals of Charleston in a 3-setter against Belinda Bencic and made the semi-

finals of Stuttgart losing to Aryna Sabalenka. The latter run got her up to world number 2, a very

impressive achievement even if the top 10 has been chaotic below dominant number 1s in Barty and

now Swiatek. It did also come about with her having two rather big sets of Indian Wells points (title

2021, semi-final 2022), but it is still admirable. Here ends the good results of Paula Badosa, however.

She was taken apart in little over an hour in Madrid- she was a semi-finalist last year- by Simona

Halep. She lost to Daria Kasatkina in Rome. She retired in the 3rd Round of Roland Garros to

Kudermetova. She lost in her first match at Eastbourne to Brit Jodie Anna Burrage who is

comfortably outside the top 100. She actually managed to make a decent run at Wimbledon to the

4th Round beating Petra Kvitova along the way before being destroyed by Simona Halep (again). It’s

been a spell of retirements, plenty of medical timeouts and very bad losses even when fit. Why has it

all gone so wrong?

I think an obvious place to start would be the injury issues which have plagued Badosa all year. She

has had 3 retirements this year and in a fair few of her losses required medical timeouts for various

issues. Even with weeks off the tour, I’ve found she still looks fatigued on her return.

Some of this is probably just the growing pains of a player rising the rankings. When you get into the

top 10, you will find yourself playing more matches and getting further in tournaments. Her body

has needed to catchup with her tennis. However, the concern must surely be that her body is still

not fully caught up even after a very active year on the tour. I do not know if the solution is that

simple, either. These injury issues have plagued Badosa most of her career. She has 27 match

retirements to date, her Azarenka retirement the latest in Guadalajara, almost all of them when

down a set. Things certainly improved with her rise in 2021 and 2022, but we have seen the

retirements more this year once again.

Regardless, that retirement number is staggeringly high especially compared to other players at the

elite level. I think some of it might be skewed by how many of them come when she is losing; so

often she retires in the second set at 0-1, 0-2 or 0-3. There seems to be a bit of a mentality issue

where she gives in quite quickly when things are against her and her body isn’t 100% fit, but even

then, I don’t know how much better the number would be if she retired a few times less. Her fitness,

and or mentality, is a massive concern that seems to be holding her back once more. I’m not sure if a

sudden shift in attitude or change in her physio will fix that.

I do sympathise with Badosa’s position and struggles though because some of it is bigger than her. I

mentioned Maria Sakkari earlier who is another similar example of a player reaching the top 10,

world no.2 also, and now massively struggling. Annett Kontaveit is another. There were several

players who made huge strides forward through 2021- especially the latter part of the year- that are

now on downward turns. The WTA has been extremely volatile since the pandemic, these freak rises

and falls are merely a by-product of that in my view.

You have had a core of top 10 players all fall out of the rankings at once due to various reasons.

Barty retiring, Osaka suddenly dropping in form due to mental health issues, Svitolina and Kerber’s

drops in form and pregnancies. See also Simona Halep and Petra Kvitova. The pandemic rushed a

gradual decline of the old top 10 and rushed the rise of the new. Where previously players like

Badosa, Sakkari and Kontaveit might have sat in the 10-6 positions for a while and settled into their

position at the top they have had no such stability. They have gone from rising underdogs to the

targets of the tour at a remarkable pace and that is very difficult to deal with.

The form of all 3 of these players dropped off for various reasons around April time. They all had

strong form and rises, but by that time they were top 5 players. You have nowhere else to go but

world number 1 and Iga Swiatek wasn’t giving that up any time soon. So, now they must defend

their positions and deal with being the target. None dealt well with it. Badosa was very open about

struggling to play at home being the favourite in Madrid, Sakkari has repeatedly stated she does not

like being one of the best in the world and the pressure on her.

If you look at Badosa particularly, she had nothing but upwards movement right up until the clay

season of 2022. Semi-finals in Madrid last year, a Roland Garros quarter-final, obviously that Indian

Wells run and also the semi-final of the tour finals. She wasn’t defending anything, only gaining

points and ranking places. That to me explains too why she did so well in Sydney and Australia in

part, that good form carrying on at Indian Wells where she has good memories, form and likes the

conditions. Also, the fact that her Indian Wells 2021 points wouldn’t drop until October probably

helped too; there was less immediate pressure on success at this point in the year. I also think

having something to chase still- the world number 2 spot- helped galvanise her in the early portions

of the clay court season. After Stuttgart comes Madrid, playing at home as one of the best in the

world for the first time and now defending lots of points. Pressure on her against a formidable clay

court opponent in Halep who can easily demolish you in the fashion she did.

Badosa is a victim of the topsy-turvy rankings in the top 10 as much as anyone else. In another time

she might be entering Madrid as what, at best world number 5? Far less pressure on her, less

expectation to win and be the one taking home the trophy- more pressure too with Swiatek not

playing the tournament so a chance for the rest of the top 10 to catch up. I think it is interesting that

it was one of those players lower in the top 10- Ons Jabeur, a good friend of Badosa’s in fact- that

won Madrid. The field had dropped like flies in the early rounds, opening up the run for Jabeur but I

hardly think there was the same level of expectation or pressure on her to capitalise on a Swiatek-

less draw in the same way there was for Badosa and co.

So, some of it is out of her control. But I strongly believe the biggest issue and frustration with

Badosa is her game style. Paula Badosa is a pusher. She hits down the middle of the court and looks

for long rallies, winning by outlasting her opponents and waiting for errors. She is far, far too

defensive- especially for someone with her capabilities. Badosa can be more aggressive; she won

Indian Wells and Sydney by playing more to her strengths and attacking. However, she insists on this

defensive play that really isn’t getting her anywhere. Instead of that rise and success in 2021, we’re

seeing epics against players she should, and could, be having no trouble with.

If you are going to be a more defensive player, be that a “pusher” or a counterpuncher, there are a

few things you need that Badosa lacks. You must have a brilliant defence or movement. Look at her

loss to Halep at Wimbledon where the Romanian got to pretty much every ball thrown at her before

winning the rally, or at the way Coco Gauff can glide around the court as arguably the best athlete

on tour. Paula Badosa doesn’t not have a brilliant defence or movement. So often I see her almost

surprised when pushed back by power shots or angles, seemingly struggling to get across everything.

You probably also want very good conditioning and fitness to outlast your opponents. See the

constant chat about Cam Norrie and his enormous lungs for reference here. As we have established,

Paula Badosa does not have amazing fitness- it’s arguably one of her biggest weaknesses.

It is so bizarre and unbelievably frustrating that Badosa actively chooses this game style. It does not

suit her body or her strengths as a player and I think has cost her more often than not. Her aversion

to hitting anywhere but the middle of the court allows opponents to entirely dictate rallies and gets

her overrun. Even counterpunchers like Gauff go on the offensive when needed, the refusal from

Badosa only lets weaker opponents get the better of her. And, again, she won Indian Wells and

Sydney by being aggressive. These are not mysterious options beyond her reach.

I think what I have increasingly realised is that I do not actually like Badosa that much anymore, but

rather I like the idea of her. I like the idea of the awesome power and rally tolerance, giving you a

great sweet spot between the ball-bashers and pushers that you find mingling the top 20 of the

WTA. I fell in love with that version of Badosa back in Indian Wells and with her run at the start of

the year I genuinely thought that would be here to stay.

Instead, however, we are left with this version of Paula Badosa. Who now is determined to hit down

the middle and grind out points. A player who finds herself struggling in matches she should be

winning much more comfortably. What frustrates me most is that I know she can win them more

comfortably. The tools are there, the power never went away; the only thing that has changed is her

willingness to use it.

I fell in love with Badosa’s peak, the best version of herself put forward on the biggest stage to win

the biggest prize. I do not expect the world of her; I am not annoyed she isn’t challenging Iga Swiatek

or winning slams. I did not expect Badosa to become the next great rival or superstar on the WTA,

but I expected more than meek early round losses and retirements from her. I expected her to be

more than just a pusher. Paula Badosa is gifted with amazing power, chose to use it but has since

drifted away to become a shell of her best self. This is what infuriates and disappoints me most.

Paula Badosa was a promising player in the top 10 with power and consistency. She looked like she

was comfortable in her new position at the top of the game. Paula Badosa is now a player on the

ropes as she tries to regain her form and find her spark. She is a pusher with the potential to be

more, forever playing within herself.

Perhaps I keep tabs on her so much and watch her matches out of hope. I still hold optimism that

she might become that Indian Wells Badosa again and rip through draws. Maybe I am just watching

because she is conventionally attractive and has a hot boyfriend- truly the downfall of a bisexual is a

hot heterosexual couple. Either way, I am usually disappointed by the tennis I see and wonder if I am

wasting my time.

You can find more of Tom’s work here:

Or you can follow him on Twitter: @JomTones12


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